The proposal for every-other-week garbage pickup is proving to be as welcome as a caterpillar in the garden salad. The difference is we don’t have to wait for a civic election to throw out the caterpillar.
That there is no appetite for reduced garbage collection should come as no surprise to the brain trust at city hall. It’s not as if anyone was asking for this. Until the city brought it up, I had not heard even one person say, “Gee, I think we’re getting our garbage picked up too often.”
What I do hear from time to time is neighbours on the eve of collection day asking if we have any extra room in our can, and if we do, could they put into it their excess.
Garbage is aromatic enough as it is after a week of ripening in the summer heat. After two weeks, the city would smell like there’s a garbage strike on. No one is asking for this, either. Along with no complaints about excessive garbage collection, I have not heard anyone say the city smells too darn good and something must be done about it at once.
The city does smell good, incidentally, especially from a hammock under a lilac bush. No one wants to be in a hammock under a lilac bush smelling two-week-old garbage.
When I first heard the proposal for biweekly garbage pickup, I actually was delighted. I thought biweekly meant twice a week. This seemed excessive, but I could live with it. No longer would our household descend into panic if I forgot to wheel the can to the curb. With biweekly pickup, we would only have to wait two or three days for the truck to come around again. Stand down, all personnel, from garbage pickup panic stations.
I also was mildly thrilled to hear a proposal, any proposal, for improved services. This I took as a sign of all the prosperity we have been hearing about. Sadly, this prosperity now is threatened by yet another worldwide financial crisis. Almost as discouraging is the Saskatchewan Roughriders losing five of their first six games. Billed at the start of the season as Grey Cup contenders, they instead are in last place. And let’s not forget about the disastrous flooding. That garbage collection in Saskatoon could be improved in the midst of all this turmoil was almost inspirational.
But no. I have since learned that biweekly has divergent definitions. It can mean twice a week or it can also mean once every two weeks. The similar word, bimontly, also is ambiguous, meaning twice a month or once every two months. We’ll have to keep this in mind when someone proposes the inevitable move to bimonthly garbage pickup.
Now that I understand what biweekly garbage pickup really means, I am less than thrilled. City council likewise is unlikely to embrace the proposal. Not when homeowners already are facing the imminent prospect of a new fee for citywide recycling. Sure, we’ll generate less garbage when we all are compelled to recycle, but the problem here is one of time, not space. Even a small amount of garbage left uncollected for too long can generate a big stink. The shelf life seems to be about seven days.
So why are we seeing this cockamamie proposal?
It is a manifestation, I think, of the so-called Washington Monument syndrome, also known as the Mount Rushmore syndrome. First identified and named in the U.S. in 1969, the syndrome describes a particular, perverse bureaucratic response to budget cutting.
In that case, the cuts were to the U.S. National Park Service. The service responded by selectively closing some of its most popular sites for two days a week, including Mount Rushmore and the Washington Monument. No one ever came out and said the idea was to provoke a public outcry and pressure Congress to restore parks funding, but that’s what happened.
Here, the civic administration seems to be saying significant cuts to a municipal budget growing faster than the rate of inflation means reductions to essential services such as summertime garbage collection. We shall see.
Incidentally, the U.S. parks director who closed the Washington Monument later was fired. That’s a whole other kind of cost cutting.